The Survivors of the Chancellor
Curtis Explains The Situation
OCTOBER 19. -- Everything, then, is clear. The uneas- iness of the crew, their frequent
conferences, Owen's mys- terious words, the constant scourings of the deck and the
oppressive heat of the cabins which had been noticed even by my fellow-passengers, all
After his grave communication, Curtis remained silent. I shivered with a thrill of horror; a
calamity the most ter- rible that can befall a voyager stared me in the face, and it was
some seconds before I could recover sufficient com- posure to inquire when the fire was
"Six days ago," replied the mate.
"Six days ago!" I exclaimed; "why, then, it was that night."
"Yes," he said, interrupting me; "it was the night you heard the disturbance upon deck.
The men on watch no- ticed a slight smoke issuing from the large hatchway and
immediately called Captain Huntly and myself. We found beyond all doubt, that the
cargo was on fire, and what was worse, that there was no possibility of getting at the seat
of the combustion. What could we do? Why, we took the only precaution that was
practicable under the circumstances, and resolved most carefully to exclude every breath
of air from penetrating into the hold. For some time I hoped that we had been successful.
I thought that the fire was stifled; but during the last three days there is every reason to
make us know that it has been gaining strength. Do what we will, the deck gets hotter and
hotter, and unless it were kept constantly wet, it would be unbearable to the feet. But I am
glad, Mr. Kazallon," he added; "that you have made the discovery. It is better that you
should know it." I listened in silence. I was now fully aroused to the gravity of the
situation and thoroughly comprehended how we were in the very face of a calamity
which it seemed that no human power could avert.
"Do you know what has caused the fire?" I presently inquired.
"It probably arose," he answered, "from the sponta- neous combustion of the cotton. The
case is rare, but it is far from unknown. Unless the cotton is perfectly dry when it is
shipped, its confinement in a damp or ill-ventilated hold will sometimes cause it to ignite;
and I have no doubt it is this that has brought about our misfortune."
"But after all," I said, "the cause matters very little. Is there no remedy? Is there nothing
to be done?"
"Nothing, Mr. Kazallon," he said. "As I told you be- fore, we have adopted the only
possible measure within our power to check the fire. At one time I thought of knock- ing
a hole in the ship's timbers just on her water-line, and letting in just as much water as the
pumps could afterward get rid of again; but we found the combustion was right in the